Tag Archives: State Department

PTJ 118: Get Off Our Lawn, Google

J.D. will help you get to your destination by plane, train or automobile as she runs down some useful travel apps just in time for the power eating U.S. holiday known as Thanksgiving.

El Kaiser finally gets an invitation to Google Inbox and…let’s just say things don’t go smoothly.

In the news the European Space Agency is still on comet duty;  AT&T gets called out by the FCC; the Federal Trade Commission has settles a score with TRUSTe; the US State Department gets hacked;  New York City plans to convert payphones into spiffy hotspots; Facebook continues spinning off features of its service; Disney partners with Walmart’s Vudu streaming service; and Google and Stanford University work on software that uses artificial intelligence to create descriptive photo captions.

Oh, and KaiserNet is finally active… MUAH HA HA HA!

PTJ 118 News: On It Like a Comet

The Rosetta mission rolls on and scientists at the European Space Agency continue to gather information about Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. After we recorded last week’s show, the Rosetta spacecraft released Philae, its small lander vehicle, onto the comet’s surface. The failure to harpoon itself to the surface — or get its solar panels in the right position to recharge its batteries — led to a shorter period of productivity than anticipated. However, there’s hope Philae could charge up its batteries if it gets a little sunlight. (The last commands the ESA were able to send the lander were for repositioning its solar panels.) Still, the lander hit a moving target way out there in space and Philae did send back some data before going dark, including evidence of organic molecules on the comet. And there’s the possibility a little sunpower will awaken it out of standby mode so it can get back to work. Philae, we salute you!

This week in Waiting for the Net Neutrality Decision news: AT&T got called out by the FCC after the telecom titan’s CEO said it may have to have to “pause” its planned 100-city high-speed Internet expansion plans due to the possibility of regulation. AT&T’s expansion plans, however, have been criticized as being vague, so the FCC sent a letter to the company asking for more information about this “expansion decision” and all documents related to it. AT&T has until November 21 to get back to the FCC with those details.

In other government-agency items of note, the Federal Trade Commission has settled a score with the TRUSTe privacy seal and certification company. Oh, the US State Department got hacked —officials said the unclassified branch of the agency’s email network was temporarily shut down this week to update security.

Payphones have never been the same since they stopped being private little rooms (and the cellphones took over anyway), but New York City has something in mind for the space and connections used by all those half-booths cluttering the sidewalks. The Mayor’s office has announced plans to convert that rotting old payphone infrastructure around town into spiffy new gigabit WiFi hotspots. A company called CityBridge is team up with the Big Apple on the LinkNYC project, which will eventually bring 10,000 “Links” — as the hot spot stations will be called — to the five boroughs. Here’s a mock-up of one in Brooklyn:

LinkNYC

Facebook has spun out the Groups function into its own standalone app. In a product announcement on the company blog, Facebook said, “we’re introducing a new Facebook Groups app that helps people share faster and more easily with all the groups in their life.” Groups, for those who don’t use them, can be public, private or secret online clubs for people all interested in the same topic or discussion. As for now, the company says you can still use Groups in the main Facebook app and on desktop. For now. (The Financial Times is reporting that so-called Facebook at Work site is in the works to provide professional networking and collaboration, but Facebook isn’t commenting.

Disney Movies Anywhere recently joined forces with Google and now the House of Mouse is linking up with Wal-Mart’s Vudu movie service. Disney Movies Anywhere is everywhere.

Apple released updates to both its Yosemite and iOS 8 operating systems this week. OS X 10.10.1 for Mac was intended to address Wi-Fi issues and other bugs some Mac folks have been complaining about for a month, but some users have posted on Apple support forums that the update still hasn’t fixed their disappearing Wi-Fi connections. The iOS 8.1.1 update was intended to improve performance on older hardware like the iPad 2 and iPhone 4s.

mica1Two items of note from the Wonderful World of Wearables. For one, Intel is getting into the jewelry business and teaming up with fashion firm Opening Ceremony on a fancy Internet-connected bangle called the MICA, also known as the My Intelligent Communication Accessory. One of the models is shown here, and yes, it costs around $500. And second in wearable news:  Fitbit data is now being used as evidence in court.

Streaming music service are having a bad month. First, Taylor Swift pulls her albums from Spotify, sending millions of teenage girls into a panic, and now Sirius XM lost a copyright battle in US district court with the 1960s rock band, The Turtles and may have to start paying for older music. (Also not having a good PR month: Uber.)

Google and Stanford University have been working together on software that uses artificial intelligence to more accurately describe the contents of photographs that previous programs. The rise of the machines starts with descriptive photo captions, folks.

hamAnd finally, Thanksgiving is next week and the gang over at Google Maps has looked at traffic conditions in 21 American cities for the past two years to figure out the worst and best times to leave for that homeward journey. (Hint: Wednesday afternoon blows.) Also, get your booze, pie and ham early if you want to avoid crowds.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Picture a Better Passport Photo

If you travel internationally, you need to update your United States passport every 10 years — and this means getting a new picture taken. If you hate going to those little passport-photo places and want to have more control over what you look like on your official government documentation, you can take your own pictures with a digital camera (at least here in the US, anyway; check with your local government if you live elsewhere).

While you can take your own photo, but not just any snapshot will do. The State Department has the official passport rules and guidelines on its site, as well as a photographer’s guide and a photo composition template.

As for the photo requirements, here are some of the highlights:

  • Hand-held cellphone selfies are not allowed. The government wants professional quality pictures here.
  • Take the picture in front of a plain white or off-white background.
  • Make sure the photo presents the full head from the top of the hair to the bottom of the chin. You need to present a full-face view, facing the camera, without hats, sunglasses or other things that cover your head and face. If you normally wear eyeglasses, you can wear them, but you have to make sure there’s no glare in in the picture.
  • Use a neutral expression — no goofy faces or wacky grins — and be looking straight at the camera. Facial-recognition software likes neutral expressions.
  • Also, you are not allowed to use image-editing programs to “digitally enhance or alter your appearance in any way.” That means no overdone beauty-magazine cover retouching, zit removal or wrinkle smoothing. Just touch yourself up beforehand and take another photo.
  • The final photograph needs to be two inches tall by two inches wide — and you need to have two copies of the image. You also need to have your head centered within that space the height of the head and the eyes within a certain measurement within those two inches of photo. Full details are on the State Department Web site.

The site even has a free photo tool (shown below) that lets you prepare an existing photo on the computer for use with a passport. You basically start up the Flash-based app and select a photo stored on your computer. You can resize and rotate it if needed and crop it to 600 by 600 pixels. There’s a template on the page that helps you get the head size and proportions correct. Once you get the picture sized and cropped, you save it, print it and send it in with your passport application.

passporttoolAnd remember, if you haven’t renewed your passport in awhile, as of 2007, the State Department has only been issuing what it calls “U.S. Electronic Passports” — the kind with a computer chip embedded in the back cover. The chip stores an electronic copy of the same information printed inside the passport’s pages, including your photograph. As the State Department Web site states:

The inclusion of the digital photograph enables biometric comparison, through the use of facial recognition technology, at international borders. The U.S. e-passport also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features.

Curious about those electronic chips and records? Read up on the official US Electronic Passport FAQ. And then have a lovely trip overseas with your personally approved passport photo, the one you won’t be ashamed to show off at the border or customs counter.